An Albanian boy taken by his mother to join Islamic State in Syria returned to his home in Italy on Friday, November 8, in the first such operation coordinated with Damascus.
“Little Alvin Berisha has arrived at Fiumicino [Rome] airport where he was reunited with his father and sister,” Italian police said in a statement.
The Italian public has been avidly following the story of 11-year-old Alvin, who was born in Italy to Albanian parents, since it emerged last month he was living in a camp in northeastern Syria.
The Albanian boy’s mother was killed in fighting, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
A media report aired in October showed the emotional reunion between the boy and his father in the al-Hol camp housing thousands of family members of suspected ISIS fighters.
An IFRC spokesperson said on Thursday that an Albanian boy was on his way back from al-Hol to his father in Italy.
“This started five years ago with the mother kidnapping the child, and deciding to go and fight for ISIS,” Tommaso Della Longa told AFP.
“We discovered through a message from al-Hol camp that the boy was still alive.”
After years of fighting, Syria’s Kurds hold thousands of suspected foreign ISIS members in detention camps: men and women, but also some 8,000 children, more than half of whom are under the age of five.
The United Nations says hundreds of them are unaccompanied.
With the backing of Italian and Albanian authorities and after negotiations in the Syrian capital, the IFRC was handed over the Albanian child on Wednesday in the first such repatriation via Damascus.
“Our Syrian Red Crescent volunteers escorted the boy from al-Hol to Damascus,” Della Longa said.
International powers have warned of mass ISIS breakouts from al-Hol, as well as other camps and jails, in the wake of a deadly Turkish cross-border offensive that began on October 9.
The Albanian boy’s return home is the first such known handover since the start of the attack, which has seen the SDF turn to Damascus after years of seeking semi-autonomy.
The Syrian Democratic Forces has repeatedly called for Western countries to repatriate their nationals linked to ISIS, but they have been largely reluctant.
Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kosovo have repatriated dozens of women and children.
With reporting from AFP